Moonlight: Themes & Symbolism

Spoiler Alert!!!

But if you haven't seen this film by now, shame on you

The UK release of most American films are significantly delayed, which is why I am just getting around to blogging about Moonlight.  No seriously,  I went to the London premiere of Hidden Figures after the Oscars aired in the States. For this reason, I try really hard to avoid reading reviews about a film that I want to see. I love experiencing a film for the first time without having any outside opinions to taint my perception. I have to also say, I rarely go to the movies. Thanks to my husband's obsession with having the latest large screen HD televisions and systems, I feel like I can get the theater-like experience from the comfort of my home. Nonetheless, I tagged along on one Sunday afternoon with my friend Mardieh to the cinema--no I'm not just speaking British English here, I actually mean cinema, because there is a distinction, as I've come to learn. The cinema has assigned seating. There's no need to sneak your favorite snacks and drinks in (not that I ever have *wink*) because you can purchase wine on site and enjoy the movie in comfier seats. Even though it's a little more expensive than the normal movie theater, the cinema provides an overall better experience.  So yeah, I tagged along with my friend Mardieh and her friend to see Moonlight (after the Oscars). We purchased our tickets separately so we were not seated together. So I sort of experienced the film alone, which meant no whispering to a friend next to me to say how cute I found the character "Black" to be. I'm a bit of a "film critic" or movie snob, so to speak. So when I say, this film blew me away, I mean it, it BLEW me away!


Moonlight is a coming-of-age drama that follows the three stages of an African-American male's life by the name of Chiron:

Chapter i. Little-  the character is a child;

Chapter ii. Chiron- the character is a young adult;

and Chapter iii. Black- the character becomes a man.

The setting takes place in Liberty City Miami during a time of the heightened drug epidemic. Chiron is discovering who he is and struggling with determining his sexuality in a community where homosexuality is not acceptable and masculinity is equated with sexuality. The film is beautifully shot and deservingly won Best Picture.

Here are some of the themes and symbolism that struck me the most.

1. Sounds & Music-  I'm a huge fan of the arts. I studied dance, music, and theater during my adolescence and even attended a performing arts program in high school. Therefore I'm always intrigued by the way music and sounds are incorporated in the film. The film director, Barry Jenkins, uses classical music during scenes. The use of the violin is intensified to evoke emotion, transitions, and to also capture the character's perception. Instead of using hip-hop or other musical genres native to the African-American community, I found that the classical music created an opera effect and adds greater emphasis to the storytelling. There was also the muting of sound (silence) during the scenes of tragedy or harm. It provides the viewer with the perspectives of the characters' feelings.

2. Water- Water represents life and rebirth. During chapter one (i.Little), the character Juan (Chiron's father figure) and the young Chiron (Little) bond at the beach while gazing onto the sea. Next, Juan teaches Little how to swim, a scene that resembles a baptism and rebirth.  Seemingly it is also at the beach in Chapter two (ii. Chiron) where Chiron discovers his sexuality for the first time overlooking the sea--a rebirth or consciousness to new life.


3. Black father/son love- Juan is a flawed character because on one hand he serves as a father figure to Chiron in the absence of his drug addict mother and absentee father. However, Juan is a major drug-dealer who is fully aware that he sells drugs to Chiron's mother. This is the first time I've seen nurture and love from a Black father to his son in this way. Generally, you might see the tough-love teachings where a Black father demonstrates love to a Black son by giving him harsh lessons of manhood and exhibiting masculinity as seen in Laurence Fishbourne's character in John Singleton's 'Boyz in the Hood'. In this film, Juan gives Chiron, tender, non-judgemental love almost like you would find commonly between a mother-son or daughter-father's relationship.

4. Breeze- Represents transquility, calmness and escape. In chapter two, Chiron and his friend/love interest Kevin sit on the beach and Kevin says, "...Sometimes around the way where we live you can catch that same breeze." The characters equate transquility with the breeze. It's clear that they are in constant search for peace of mind.

Moonlight is a beautifully told story. The camera angles and visuals tell a story of inner struggles with external self. In th end, Chiron suppresses his true self. I think the story is about more than just about sexuality, it's also about searching for one's true self and the ability to live out your authentic self. The three chapters titled with three personas of the main character represent the search for self. I would encourage everyone to see this film or rewatch it with these themes in mind and appreciate Jenkin's art of storytelling.